NDP makes 'aggressive' push for progressive voters to ditch Trudeau for something new

Before NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh left British Columbia last week, he danced on the sunny tarmac with his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu for his hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers.

Leader Jagmeet Singh takes aggressive approach during first week in hopes of improving seat count

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh greets his brother, Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh, during a campaign stop at Mangia Mangia cafe, in Brampton, Ont., on Aug. 16, 2021, on Day 2 of the federal election campaign. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Before NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh left British Columbia last week, he danced on the sunny tarmac with his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu for his hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers. 

Singh has reason to be happy. 

As the first leader to take the campaign to the air last week, the NDP jumped ahead of other parties to visit the Greater Toronto Area, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta — a province the party skipped during the last federal election in 2019. 

This time, Edmonton was the scene of Singh's largest outdoor rally so far, with a few hundred people gathered to cheer on and take selfies with the NDP leader.

"My hands are shaking," said one young voter after posing for a photo with Singh.

It's clear Singh has personal appeal, but the question remains whether progressive voters have had enough with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to try something new. 

WATCH | TikTok on the tarmac

NDP campaign director Jennifer Howard is optimistic the party can add to its 24 seats. 

"This is a campaign about growth," Howard told CBC News.

"We believe we have an opportunity to do that, and we're going to be aggressive in pursuing them." 

During the first week, Singh campaigned in only Conservative-held and Liberal-held ridings, aside from his own virtual nomination meeting for Burnaby South.

Singh even made the bold move of walking the streets of Papineau yesterday — the Montreal riding held by Trudeau. 

It was Singh's second stop in Montreal after launching his campaign in the city, where the party is trying to rebuild after being nearly wiped out of Quebec two years ago. 

Offering an alternative

The NDP's internal polling shows momentum is building, according to Howard. He said the numbers indicate that the choice for voters is between Singh and Trudeau.

Singh is trying to draw a strong contrast between himself and the Liberal leader as the one who actually cares and will fulfil his promises. 

His main pledge: tax the rich more. 

"I feel like we've really laid out the question in this election, which is that Justin Trudeau has let the ultra-rich have a free ride," Singh said.

"We are saying that billionaires and millionaires should pay their fair share, and we can invest that into what people need."

WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visits Cowessess First Nation

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh visits Cowessess First Nation

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pledged his commitment to seeking justice for Indigenous people in Canada today, from Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. But with that community lying within a firmly Conservative-held riding in which the NDP doesn't have an official candidate, some question why Singh felt the need to go there.

Howard said the ballot box question this time is about who can make your life better, especially after the pandemic. 

"We are talking about some fundamental shifts in the way Canada works," Howard said.

"Closing loopholes, taxing the wealthy and using that money to do things like build a universal pharmacare system or help pay for dental care for people.… That's a big change." 

One topic on the minds of many Canadians — climate change —did not get mentioned much during Singh's swing through Western Canada. While the NDP leader sent funds from his nomination meeting to wildfire relief efforts in B.C., he did not make environmental policies the focus during campaign stops. 

But Singh was the only federal leader to visit an Indigenous community in the first election week in an attempt to bring attention back to reconciliation. 

Singh gave  Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme in Saskatchewan the kirpan he has worn throughout  his federal political career. He presented Delorme  with the  kirpan — a knife carried by Sikhs as part of their faith — after visiting hundreds of unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School

Singh became emotional after walking through the rows of markers, and explained that his kirpan symbolizes his promise to fight for justice for Indigenous people. 

Hybrid campaign

Singh is doing a mix of in-person and virtual events during this pandemic election by speaking to supporters over Zoom as a way to replace traditional in-person whistle stops. 

His routine usually involves a morning announcement without prepared remarks then a few smaller events in the afternoon, such as visiting a local business and strolling the sidewalks nearby.

The stops appear to be targeted more toward social media than rallying supporters on the ground, as only a handful usually show up, while the images of Singh go much further across his multiple online platforms.

During one of those stops in Burnaby North–Seymour, one voter told Singh she knows he has the younger vote, but what about older people?

Singh replied that he's working on it. From housing and rent affordability to improving health care and long-term care, the NDP is trying to attract voters of all ages.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responds to question next to his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu and Mike Layton, son of former NDP leader Jack Layton, before a memorial wall in Toronto on Sun. August 22, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Singh's first week on the campaign trail did not come without some speed bumps. He faced questions over his party's choice to use a multimillion-dollar home in Burnaby, B.C., as the backdrop for an affordable housing promise. 

He also became the target of social media backlash on the 10th anniversary of Jack Layton's death after proposing to rename the former NDP leader's riding of Toronto–Danforth as Danforth–Layton.   

'It's your time, man'

Although published polls show the NDP is stuck in third place, Singh is still keeping the bar high for himself. 

"My goal is to form a New Democrat government, to be the prime minister," Singh said. 

Failing that, Singh is not entertaining the idea of forming a coalition with the Liberals in order to avoid a Conservative government. 

WATCH | Appealing to young voters on TikTok

"I will work with whatever Canadians elect," Singh said.

"I'll work with whoever I need to to achieve that — the help that people need to tackle the problems people are faced with." 

During a quick stop in the Liberal-held riding of York South–Weston in Toronto, a passerby yelled at Singh: "It's your time, man!"

If the moment has arrived for Singh, it will depend on his ability to turn social media likes and sidewalk support into votes in the privacy of the ballot booth.


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca.